Monday, 26 November 2018
Order for the Production of Documents
I seek leave to amend general business notice of motion No. 1225 standing in my name for today.
I amend the motion in the terms circulated in the chamber and move the motion as amended:
(1) That the Senate notes that—
(a) on 16 October 2018, the Senate ordered the Commissioner of Taxation to provide information (company names to the Economics Legislation Committee related to designated financial entities that have lodged late, or not yet lodged, a corporate income tax return;
(b) on 5 November 2018, the Minister for Finance and the Public Service advanced a public interest immunity claim on the grounds that the disclosure of individual taxpayer information to the committee will harm the public interest by undermining public confidence in taxation laws and taxation administration;
(c) the Minister for Finance and the Public Service also claimed that the disclosure of this information will have a substantial adverse effect on the proper and efficient operations of the Australian Taxation Office;
(d) except in circumstances where the Parliament has explicitly carved out the ability for a House of Parliament to make inquiries, the secrecy provisions of legislation are subservient to the Constitution-derived inquiry powers of Senate;
(e) disclosing the names of financial entities that have not complied with tax laws does not undermine taxation laws and taxation administration, but rather may serve to encourage compliance with taxation laws; and
(f) Australia's tax transparency laws oblige the Commissioner of Taxation to annually publish selected income tax information, including the company name, for certain taxpayers and this has not resulted in the purported harm.
(2) That the Senate affirms that:
(a) there are few circumstances in which a corporation can be of the view they are entitled to anonymity;
(b) the public interest balance lies in favour of the disclosure of companies in breach of taxation law; and
(c) the Senate does not accept the public interest immunity claim advanced by the Minister for Finance and the Public Service.
(3) That the Senate orders the Commissioner of Taxation to comply with the balance of the order agreed to by the Senate on 16 October 2018.
Taxpayers provide their information to the Australian Taxation Office in the knowledge that its confidentiality is protected by law except in very limited specific circumstances. The government opposes this motion. It will open the door to ever-present parliamentary speculation and inquiry into taxpayer affairs. The ATO can penalise taxpayers that do not lodge a return. The government has increased the penalties on large multinationals that do not lodge a return up to $525,000. Parliament enacted legislation prohibiting public disclosure of taxpayer information, recognising that disclosing confidential information would be contrary to public interest and adversely impact ATO operations.